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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Even if the Gipsy is not perverse


I

have, perhaps, been too minute and tedious in describing these rites and ceremonies of the Gentoos; but the singular fact that our Scottish Tinklers yet--at least till very lately--retained the important fragments of the ancient mythology of the Pagan tribes of Hindostan, is offered as an apology to the curious reader for the trouble of perusing the details. I shall only add, that there appears to be nearly as great a resemblance between the sacrifices of the Gipsies and the ancient Hindoos, as there is affinity between modern Hindostanee and the language of the Gipsies in Scotland, at the present day, as will be seen in the following chapter.

CHAPTER IX.

LANGUAGE.

The Scottish Gipsies appear to be extremely tenacious of retaining their language, as their principal secret, among themselves, and seem, from what I have read on the subject, to be much less communicative, on this and other matters relative to their history, than those of England and other countries. On speaking to them of their speech, they exhibit an extraordinary degree of fear, caution, reluctance, distrust, and suspicion; and, rather than give any information on the subject, will submit to any self-denial. It has been so well retained among themselves, that I believe it is scarcely credited, even by individuals of the greatest intelligence, that it exists at all, at the

present day, but as slang, used by common thieves, house-breakers and beggars, and by those denominated flash and family men.[189]

[189] Before considering this trait in the character of the Scottish Gipsies, it may interest the reader to know that the same peculiarity obtains among those on the continent.

Of the Hungarian Gipsies, Grellmann writes: "It will be recollected, from the first, how great a secret they make of their language, and how suspicious they appear when any person wishes to learn a few words of it. Even if the Gipsy is not perverse, he is very inattentive, and is consequently likely to answer some other rather than the true Gipsy word."

Of the Hungarian Gipsies, Bright says: "No one, who has not had experience, can conceive the difficulty of gaining intelligible information, from people so rude, upon the subject of their language. If you ask for a word, they give you a whole sentence; and on asking a second time, they give the sentence a totally different turn, or introduce some figure altogether new. Thus it was with our Gipsy, who, at length, tired of our questions, prayed most piteously to be released; which we granted him, only on condition of his returning in the evening."

Of the Spanish Gipsies, Mr. Borrow writes: "It is only by listening attentively to the speech of the Gitanos, whilst discoursing among themselves, that an acquaintance with their dialect can be formed, and by seizing upon all unknown words, as they fall in succession from their lips. Nothing can be more useless and hopeless than the attempt to obtain possession of their vocabulary, by enquiring of them how particular objects and ideas are styled in the same; for, with the exception of the names of the most common things, they are totally incapable, as a Spanish writer has observed, of yielding the required information; owing to their great ignorance, the shortness of their memories, or, rather, the state of bewilderment to which their minds are brought by any question which tends to bring their reasoning faculties into action; though, not unfrequently, the very words which have been in vain required of them will, a minute subsequently, proceed inadvertently from their mouths."


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